The Value-Added Network is All But Gone from the B2B Supply Chain Toolkit

Since Wal-Mart moved away from value-added networks for B2B document exchange in 2003, the death of traditional VANs has been inevitable. Predictions of the extinction of the VAN have appeared steadily ever since.

The remaining players have been gobbled up in a flurry of acquisitions in recent years: Inovis, for instance, was purchased by GXS, which was in turn purchased by Open Text. A few are surviving through adaptation, such as Covisint, which caters largely to the healthcare industry and is high-teching into non-traditional territory (the cloud, identity management as a service).

The VAN has died slowly because traditional EDI has died slowly. That slow death has derived from the lack of a clear successor technology. XML has long been touted as the natural heir for B2B data exchange and systems integration, and with the rapid proliferation of web services, it is now ubiquitous.

The advent of AS4, the web service-friendly successor to AS2 (EDI’s Internet-based innovation), closes the gap for EDI-dependent B2B partners seeking to shed the expense and trouble of VAN data transport, by simplifying web service-based data exchange implementations and enhancing endpoint availability robustness.

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B2B Integration Is Evolving Rapidly

B2B Integration technology and methodology are undergoing rapid evolution, according to Information Week.

A number of developments in information technology are driving this evolution. In a white paper predicting the state of B2B integration over the next five years, several of these developments are cited, including the embrace of big data by trading partners; supply chain “straight-through” processing; mobile computing and real-time business processes; and a need to integrate more deeply with purchasing and field support.

Specifically, the advent of smart phones and tablets, cloud technology, social media analytics and ubiquitous CRM, and real-time connectivity across domains are developments driving B2B integration to move forward more quickly.

These changes create an evolutionary pressure on supply chain partners to grow their IT systems at a faster pace. The paper predicted three big operational shifts over the next five years:

Operational excellence. A shift from point-to-point integration between partners to real workflow, with an emphasis on reusable elements, along with commitment to high availability and integration beyond transactional data are the operational future.

Customer excellence. More rapid response to customer needs, enabled by newer messaging technologies (web services), improved business visibility and collaboration in troubleshooting customer support issues define this shift.

Support of innovation. To make this evolution a reality, a shift toward perpetual innovation and new ways of implementing processes is essential. Included in this shift are openness to social trading networks, true multi-enterprise processes, and investment in business service subscriptions to augment multi-enterprise applications.

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IT Standards and Tech Upgrade Have a Positive Impact on Healthcare B2B Integration

The overhaul of healthcare IT systems throughout the country in the wake of the Affordable Care Act have led to new industry standards and a certification process to ensure their implementation, per the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Industry pundits Roger Baker and Aneesh Chopra discussed the benefits in a recent podcast, focusing on the advantages of deeper B2B integration between health care service providers and suppliers and the future that cooperation heralds.

“The ability to incorporate information across networks is absolutely essential,” Chopra said as he outlined a vision for a shared, data-driven decision-making paradigm to support the healthcare industry’s rapid evolution.

Though the new standards and optimistic vision of IT tech in healthcare bode well in the long run, uptake of the standards can be intimidating to some participants. To lessen the pain, fees for some standards have been dropped.

Baker and Chopra are both Honorary Advisory Panel members on the Government Health IT Conference and Exhibition, to be held June 17-18 in Washington, DC.

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Contingency Planning for Supply Chain Disruption is Essential

Recent contract negotiations of the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union have heightened tensions over possible supply chain disruptions and how they might affect the fragile US economy.

It’s no small concern: in 2002, those same negotiations stalled, costing the economy $1 billion per day. Supply chain disruption can have ripple effects that last for months. Contingency planning to minimize those effects has become an essential practice.

Inbound Logistics has recommended a three-phase approach to contingency planning: assess the potential impact of disruption; explore response options (acquire alternate suppliers, plan alternate routes, etc.); and prioritize those response options by assigning each a quantified level of risk. This proactive approach can soften the impact of disruption and hasten the rebound of supply chain stability.

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